MCN Commentary & Analysis

The State of Oscar. 120819. (‘Twas The Night Before “Christ, Who Are These People?”)

This is what is so tricky about this business of writing about the status of awards races, all of which lead to Oscar, which is ultimately the only thing that truly matters. I promise, no one whose intro graph includes “Golden Globe Winner” would not prefer it say “Oscar Winner.” Not one. Not even a little.

Yes, they are happy to have something and not nothing. But Oscar is, in fact, an award given to you by 9,000 or so people out of the 40,000 who work in your field of endeavor. And The Golden Globes are given out by 80something people, the vast majority of whom are low-profile or semi-retired journalists for international outlets and are based in Los Angeles. Oscar tries – and sometimes fails – to maintain decorum. The Globes tries to maintain their per diem and first-class travel and singular access to movie stars and filmmakers.

But insulting the iffy group that makes up the HFPA is not the challenging part.

It is that the pool of talent being in any way considered for awards – all not-meant-to-be-jokey awards – is of a very high level. There is no good reason to insult them for getting Award X or Tribute Y. They almost invariably deserve it.

Then there are the groups, like New York Film Critics Circle or Los Angeles Film Critics Association or even the Critics Choice Association (formerly the Broadcast Film Critics, which has a membership that was built on film journalism and not criticism, regardless of the name), which are not silly and persuadable by cheap or even pricey trinkets. They each have a unique communal voice. They swear they don’t. But they do… just as any voting group of under 300 people will.

Even groups like the nominating committee for the AFI Awards have a voice, as more than half of the annual nominating group comes from the same pool of regulars every year. There is nothing wrong with these people – unlike some of the HFPA members – but they have their tastes.

There are variables in how these varied groups vote. Some vote blindly. Some meet and negotiate through a day of awards picking. Some have demands of studios and the people making films that has become so fundamental to the process that failing to meet those demands is an instant fail.

But Mary Kay Place, who I have loved to watch since the Mary Hartman era (and if you don’t know that Norman Lear nightly soap opera/comedy/social drama beyond the name, you are likely under 45 and are missing a remarkable moment of television history), doesn’t deserve mockery in any way for being the object – as an example – of LAFCA’s annual urge to deliver at least one completely unpredictable award.

Of course, there is the flipside. Should Renée Zellweger or Robert De Niro or Ford v Ferarri be forced to wait for BFCA or The Globes to be recognized as a result of being seen as givens in the season from early on? Yes, it could be that LAFCA just doesn’t see Renée or Charlize or Saoirse or Scarlett as being as worthy in their work as MKP and Lupita… or we might be able to agree that there is contrarianism and muscle-flexing in the choice that is not just an objective analysis of a very subjective art form and its artists.

This is the crux of what is hard about this for me, as an analyst. It is insane to commit to a set of rules of any kind regarding all of this. It’s an impossible errand because every time someone decides they know the rules, the actual results upends that hubris.

At the core of this is the idea of actors – and others – competing based on the art they have created. How in God’s name do you try to compare what Willem Dafoe was doing in The Lighthouse with what Joe Pesci did for Scorsese in The Irishman? They are operating on a different planet. That is not to say that Pesci didn’t do something a lot more like Dafoe’s wild lighthouse keeper in Casino for Scorsese or that Dafoe didn’t do something a lot more like Pesci in The Irishman for Scorsese in The Last Temptation of Christ.

How does one compare Jennifer Lopez in Hustlers, delivering a character that relies on many of the charms Lopez offers in her many performance venues and Margot Robbie slowly building a subtle portrait of a strong woman who becomes a victim? Both lean into their beauty. But one performance is all about that seductive charm that draws men and women into objectifying and underestimating an ambitious woman and the other is a character who is trying to not be seductive at all to the person objectifying her while consciously using her physical advantages to advance her career. Maybe these characters are closer than I was thinking, but they are very different in many ways.

With due respect to the many, many critics’ groups whose awards and nominations will land after The Globes announce tomorrow morning, they are lovely. But none really move the Oscar meter. We are now in the post-critic, pre-show-group period of The Oscar Race.

The critics that get some traction have spoken. And here are the critics’ winners who will get a benefit, perhaps making real progress towards Oscar nominations…

Lupita Nyong’o
Bong Joon-Ho
Jennifer Lopez
Antonio Banderas
Claire Mathon (DP of Portrait of a Lady on Fire)

That’s not nothing. I would argue that Lopez was already in good shape and Parasite/Bong were close to the line. But the rest needed real help and got it.

For Antonio Banderas to get a nomination, he needs to push out either Jonathan Pryce, Robert De Niro or Leonardo DiCaprio. Obviously, Pryce seems like the most vulnerable. But he has made himself available in a way the other two have not and as The Two Popes gains momentum – which could end up being illusory – his work seems as strong if not stronger than the other two with the constituency of actors who vote for Oscar nominations. I hate the idea of the two once-stars of Evita fighting for a slot.

And who really thinks Eddie Murphy, one of the most under-celebrated acting geniuses of his generation, should be hoping to just slide in? And what of the flat reception for Ford v Ferrari, which audiences love and critics can’t be bothered to acknowledge in all of its middle-aged white maleness? Christian Bale is perfect in this role… but his likelihood of getting in requires that Oscar voters just don’t pay any attention at all to the critics and precursors.

Nyong’o is part of a group of potential nominees of color who are hovering around the last seemingly-open slot for Best Actress. But Awkwafina and Cynthia Erivo have also gotten some attention in this last 10 days. And of the 4 presumed frontrunners, only Scarlett Johansson has gotten any recognition. But for the outsiders looking in, attention can make a big difference as we get to the Great Settling.

Finally, Mathon seeks to become the second female Cinematography nominee in history. But her movie has a small footprint. In the last decade, I count four out-of-the-box Oscar nominations in this category. Two of them were for Łukasz Żal for his two films with Paweł Pawlikowski. One was six-time Oscar nominee Caleb Deschanel, who was surprising only because he was nominated for the international film, Never Look Away. And finally, Rachel Morrison, who got a nod for Mudbound two years ago, although not without a hard push by Netflix (which some feel was so heavy-handed that it cost her the Oscar… although Deakins finally winning was tough to overcome).

And here is what will happen after the Golden Globes announce tomorrow morning…

Petty gossip.

And a few hard realities.

The discussion will be more about what didn’t get nominated than what did… at least, amongst the informed. Because the quirky separation of comedy/musical and drama will make the Globes nods seem, well… weird.

Being in a comedy or musical is, this season, a massive advantage in getting a nomination from these hucksters. Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood and Jojo Rabbit are the only serious Oscar Best Picture contenders being positioned as Comedy for The Globes. So that opens up a lot of slots.

One issue is that no one wants to get Martianed… which is to say that no film that has some humor and drama wants to be categorized as a Comedy because of how this seems to have handicapped The Martian a few years ago.

But the question is, does a film like Bombshell find itself lost in the middle, unable to get a Drama slot against a loaded field and staying away from Comedy, thus starting the whispers that it can’t make it for Oscar?

And there is this… I fully expect at least twi Oscar BP nominees not to be nominated by The Globes. So being left out is not a death sentence. (Parasite is not eligible for either of The Globes’ Best Picture slots.)

But as the hum of gossip will have it, you can’t win a Best Picture Oscar without at least a nomination from The Globes.

Well… Sometimes gossip has a sturdy foundation.

And indeed, you have to go all the way back to 2006, back in the days of just five Oscar BP nominees, to find an Oscar Best Picture winner that was not nominated for a Golden Globe for Picture. Crash! Before that aberration, you have to go back 37 years to 1982 and 1981, when The Globes missed two years in a row on Gandhi and Chariots of Fire. But that was more than a decade before NBC started televising, thus legitimizing the show and indeed, 1982 also was the year of the most famous Globes win of the past… Pia Zadora for Butterfly.

So… Can you win The Real Best Picture without getting a Fool’s Gold nom?

Whatever the alchemy, it seems like the longest of shots.

Because what we know is that not winning precursors is not fatal… but not being in the conversation – meaning nominations – may well be.

So whether the approval of 80something 80somethings should mean anything to Oscar voters — especially as so many are so excited by the demographic shift at The Academy — it would be stupid to pretend that any stat this robust isn’t legit.

And the same stat is true of the Best Actor and Actress categories. Of course, the Globes nominates 10 in each. Regardless of that, in all these last 40 years, no Best Actor or Actress Oscar winner was not at least Globes nominated.

It is not true of the Supporting Acting categories, so if tomorrow goes badly for them, they can have about 10% hope of still being nominated and winning. It’s been over a decade in both categories since this happened, so perhaps it’s time for it to happen again. (On the other hand, maybe The Globes became so important to publicists that it just hasn’t happened since Alan Arkin in 2006-07.)

Of course, every stat has exceptions and some do change in a very real way. So you always have to be willing to accept both notions at the same time.

Did I mention that this part of the awards season is tricky?

22 Responses to “The State of Oscar. 120819. (‘Twas The Night Before “Christ, Who Are These People?”)”

  1. movieman says:

    Where’s all the GG “Cats” love we heard about?

    And can we all agree that slotting “Once Upon a Time…” into the Best Comedy/Musical category is ridiculous, and a blatant attempt to insure a “Best Picture” win in “The Year of Scorsese”?

    The lack of any “1917” acting recognition so far takes some of the bloom off its potential spoiler scenario.
    While I can still see an Oscar telecast where–akin to 1981–the British upstart (“Chariots of Fire”) trumps the two heavily touted American favorites (“Reds” and “On Golden Pond”) after they effectively cancel each other out, even “Chariots” got a supporting nod for Ian Holm.
    Both George MacKay and Dean-Charles Chapman are eminently deserving of nominations (I voted for both), but neither seems to be gaining any traction.

  2. Rams says:

    All hail “The Year of Scorsese” for his interminable 200 million dollar( and counting) tv movie (to some, three part mini-series). He did it because they gave him the money. How much money did Netflix pay to “four wall” it in the theatres? Certainly more than the amount of tickets that were sold during its pathetic theatrical release. What is Netflix going to do when all of the A-listers die out since they obviously aren’t creating any of their own? The numbers provided by Nielsen (not Netflix) for “The Irishman” are quite paltry even though nobody is admitting it. Scorsese “The King of Film Preservation”.!! Gimme a break!

  3. Stella's Boy says:

    Is there any way to know how much The Irishman made in theaters? I saw it at a theater that screened it for five days three times a day and every screening sold out. If that’s true everywhere it played I wonder how much it made. And why are we dumping on Scorsese? No one else would make this movie. It was Netflix or nothing. I for one am glad Netflix funded The Irishman. I see he’s back with Paramount for Killers of the Flower Moon which surely won’t be cheap but has Leo again.

  4. Hcat says:

    Based on his other posts I would hazard that Rams is more anti Netflix than anti Scorsese. Stella’s right that there was nowhere else for Scorsese to go at that price point and minute count. This could have turned out like Leone’s America expensive and butchered upon release only to be recognized properly later on. Netflix’s release strategy not only prevented that, but took the whole flop/hit component out of the conversation (it was never going to recoup that budget in theatrical).

    Whatever they lost in the token theatrical release, at least they did it, not just for the Oscar rules but it did give some the chance to experience it in the theater. I’m skeptical that Netflix is good for movies in general, but for all the awfulness that is the industry right now the fact that Netflix is kicking down to produce an actual big budget movie for grownups is hardly the most egregious thing happening.

  5. movieman says:

    Don’t conflate me into the “dumping on Scorsese” camp, SB.
    I thought “The Irishman” was–along w/ “The Aviator” and his Dylan and Geo. Harrison docs–Scorsese’s best film this century.
    And arguably his most enjoyable movie all-around since “GoodFellas.”
    If he wins a second Oscar for “Irishman,” at least it will be more deserved than his, “Hey, I guess Marty is due!” Oscar for “The Departed” 13 years ago.
    If Netflix continues financing movies like this, “Marriage Story,” “Roma,” “The Ballad of Buster Scruggs,””Mudbound,” “Private Life,” etc., I promise not to bitch about how they’ve ruined the DVD part of their business model (or how lame “Stranger Things” is).

  6. Rams says:

    “The Irishman” was made for a streaming service. Streaming is a fancy word for watching it on your television or smart phone. So technically it’s a tv movie. And that’s a fact! Netflix can make all the product they want. But there’s got to be parameters. They want to win awards ,start their own- The Streamer Awards. Quit cheapening the Oscars with their tv oriented fare. That’s what the Emmys are for. (and by the way, why is no one commenting on their hideous ratings?} And what’s the deal with leasing the Paris Theatre and supposedly buying the Egyptian (haven’t heard a thing about this since April)? It’s a sham. They don’t give two cents about brick and mortar. And I’m not Anti-Scorsese. I loved Liza in “New York, New York”. And why didn’t the title song get nominated in 1978? And by the way, the Golden Globes did one good thing- they nominated “Beautiful Ghosts” from “Cats”.

  7. Stella's Boy says:

    I didn’t mean you movieman. Netflix might have produced The Irishman but it looks every bit the $150 million or whatever movie it is. It’s hardly a TV movie in the way I think that’s supposed to mean. And cheapen the Oscar’s? Please. They just gave fucking Green Book best picture.

  8. movieman says:

    I don’t care where great movies come from, just that they’re great movies.
    And Netflix–like it or not–has produced more wonderful movies in the past few years than every major Hollywood studio combined.
    Which is a depressing commentary on 21st century H’wood, yes, but heartening news for anyone who loves movies.

  9. Hcat says:

    Rams, I totally see where you are coming from, I do not like the idea of Netflix scooping up the top talents, maybe giving them a token release (and in a theater they own) before sending them to television.

    But they have not encroached as much as taken the territory that the studios have already surrendered. I understand why they wouldn’t bankroll Irishman, but who doesn’t want a Jenkins or a Baumbach on their slate? Was Dolemite prohibitively expensive that Paramount couldn’t give a chance on their onetime golden goose?

    On a different note, even though its a different situation that since they have nothing else this year to promote, that Warners is more likely to get sad man Joker a nomination while they weren’t able to do that for the ass kicking Wonder Woman is terribly terribly creepy.

  10. Rams says:

    “Roma”, “Beast of No Nations” “Mudbound”, “Mowgli” and others were not “produced” by Netflix. If you look at a website like Vulture which lists their “films”, 80% of them I’ve never heard of. And by the way, “The Irishman” cost over $200 million not including the money they will use to buy the Oscar for Best Picture. The publicists have been doing a good job of hiding this fact by putting all kinds of misinformation out there. And by the way, “Bird Box”, “Bright”, “War Machine” and “6 Underground” are better than anything the studios have made in the last few years? There are no grosses reported, and rarely any eyeballs reported either. I can’t understand this business model where everything falls down the black or rabbit hole. No “heft” or “cred” is given. The future is here and a new Netflix Adam Sandler movie is coming. And MP, did you enjoy “Earthquake Bird”?

  11. Stella's Boy says:

    I mean I don’t think anyone here disagrees with you Rams when you describe some of the downside of Netflix and their money/business practices/power. You just refuse to acknowledge any upside whatsoever, and I don’t think it’s accurate to state that Netflix is 100% negative and evil. And whatever The Irishman really cost it only exists because of Netflix (and yes Netflix will be the first ever case of an attempt to buy an Oscar; the Oscars were pure and credible and only held in high esteem before Netflix).

  12. Hcat says:

    Rams, you’re correct that Netflix pick ups these projects from various film markets. Exactly like Bernard and Barker do. And they get accolades for decades of doing what Netflix is trying to replicate. i.e. finding quality and pushing it to a wide audience.

    Yes Netflix makes Sandler films and a mountain of mouthbreathing crap. But there does seem to be some distinctions, they are not putting their Kurt Russell as Santa or Hallmark knockoff movies into theaters. Nobody is saying everything Netflix touches is gold. Just that they are accumulating quite a few wonderful projects at a higher rate than any of the current large studios. Would it make you happier if they threw the word Vantage of Classics after the logo, to distinguish it from their teen comedies?

    Though mentioning the Logo, they desperately need a new one, where’s the freakin’ majesty? It doesn’t have to be the roar of trumpets or a lion, but the N expanding to their name with a powerpoint sounding beep doesn’t herald the approach of a feature. It looks more like something for an outfit syndicating gameshows.

  13. Rams says:

    No matter what you think of Marvel, 94 million souls in the USA and Canada got off their couches and paid to see Avengers: Endgame in theatres. Ted Sarandos bragged that over 26 million viewers worldwide clicked on “The Irishman” in seven days. What the hell is so impressive about that? And in the same article, he said theatres were “anti-consumer” because they wanted to sustain the windows. Mr, Sarandos for some reason would like nothing more than to destroy theatres completely. I have never seen such a nefarious character in my life (and that includes Trump).

  14. Hcot says:

    Wow, than you are not paying very close attention!

  15. Stella's Boy says:

    Did Ted Sarandos run over your dog Rams? I’m not here to defend him but you are extremely anti-Netflix and anti-Sarandos. Like suspiciously, bizarrely against them. And doesn’t it make sense that Avengers: Endgame has a wider audience than The Irishman? That’s exactly what I would expect. How is that a fair and meaningful comparison?

  16. Hcat says:

    So 26 million in a week is a big deal because….

    A) Netflix has about 60 million subscriptions, so a decent percentage of their patrons checked out a 3hour plus crime film starring 3 guys who were born during WWII.

    B) Scorsese’s last theatrical release was seen by one million people total.

    C) That is likely larger than any cable or broadcast show racked up in the same amount of time.

    And you keep disregarding any mention of the acclaim that it has gotten, you ask us to dismiss any critical feelings we have about the Marvel movies to revel in their bottom line success, can you not see the flip side of that argument that does not focus on budget and rate of return but on what was actually achieved. No one likes to watch the BO horserace more than me, but that certainly doesn’t mean that the quantitative argument is more important than the qualitative. That 94 million people flocked to that bore of an Avengers movie is much more detrimental to the industry than having a movie that would not otherwise have been made go to a streaming service.

  17. Rams says:

    I am just an average Joe who fell in love with movie theatres from a very early age. I still go to movies regularly, and I don’t apologize for it to anyone. I find it funny that you view my comments to be suspicious or bizarre. Can you say anything I’ve said is untrue? And don’t regale me with your stereotypical flaws about movie theatres. Nobody’s perfect, but I’ve had great times over the years at the movies. And, still do. Also, I don’t own a dog for Sarandos to run over. See you at the movies!

  18. Stella's Boy says:

    I also still go to the movies regularly. I love going to movie theaters. Not sure what that has to do with anything. I don’t think anyone here was dissing going to the movies. And yes I take issue with many of your comments especially the one about Ted Sarandos being more dangerous than Donald Trump.

    “That 94 million people flocked to that bore of an Avengers movie is much more detrimental to the industry than having a movie that would not otherwise have been made go to a streaming service.”


  19. movieman says:

    Is “Rams” what’s-his-name (blanking on his MCN tag) who used to drool over everything Marvel, but with a new monicker?

  20. Hcat says:

    I don’t think anyone said anything detrimental about the theatre experience, in fact I said I was glad that some got to make the pilgrimage to see Irishman in the theater. I would prefer to see everything in the theater. I share your trepidation about Netflix entering the awards conversation, though not your apparent white hot hatred of them (this is what we are finding bizarre) . Netflix will not destroy theatrical. The DOJ nulling the Paramount verdict is more likely to screw things up for theaters than Netflix is (talk about nefarious). These massive mergers that will allow fewer and fewer companies competing against each other in a meaningful way, Viacom and CBS reuniting is almost precious compared to the ATT/Warners merger, is more likely to put the squeeze on theaters than them missing the chance to play the newest Bay film.

    Theatrical has always survived, it will outlive Broadcast TV, Home Video, Pay Cable, all the things that once sounded the death knell for it. In the meantime, during the state of flux, when you look around for the bad guys, its usually not the ones funding films for grownups by accomplished filmmakers.

  21. Hcat says:

    MM, I doubt Rams is IO or JSpartisan.

    If only because IO would never write ‘No matter what you think about Marvel movies.’ Supplication to their greatness would have been demanded.

  22. movieman says:

    LOL, you’re probably right, Hcat.
    But the hectoring, passion-exceeding-all reason tone is so very IO.

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